Somewhere in Germany
This is the sequel to Nowhere in Africa, which told the story of the Redlich’s family’s flight from Nazi Germany to the relative safety of Kenya. Here the Redlichs return to their home city of Frankfurt after nine years of exile, only to find that as Jews and refugees they are doubly unwelcome. The novel follows the development of husband Walter, wife Jette, daughter Regina and son Max over a period of several years as they adjust to postwar life and slowly growing prosperity, though the shadows of the war and the Holocaust continue to haunt them.
The trouble with autobiographical novels is that they tend to follow the patterns of real life, and can end up as slow, repetitive, mundane and frustrating as real life as a result. Especially in the beginning, it’s difficult to get a clear sense of each character’s voice and personality. The rotating points of view help somewhat, but there’s no central conflict driving the action, and little suspense or tension to be resolved. Things simply happen and are described with a minimum of showing and a maximum of telling. Some extremely long and/or convoluted sentences make the narrative feel terse and plain (“The Maases’ daughter, robust, athletic, and sociable, was unable to relate to Regina’s reserved behavior, her seriousness, and her concern for her little brother, a feeling that was unfamiliar to an only child”). It’s hard to identify with any of the characters, or care whether they get what they want. Still, it’s an intensely vivid portrait of an era, and the time and place easily eclipse the characters. Worth reading as a historical study, if not a gripping family saga.